Trip Review: The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly
Just returned from St. Thomas (and a day trip to St. John) May 5-9th. Here are my thoughts.
1. Rental Car (Dollar/Thrifty): Arrived at the airport on time, and called the local office as I knew I had to do for a shuttle. I was told the white van would arrive shortly. It took nearly 30 minutes, but it finally did show up. The location is very close to the airport - maybe 3 minutes away. The building looks like a rat-trap. Seedy building, gross little area of town. The employees were nice and friendly, and the rental car (Yaris) did its job. No hidden fees, no problems at all. Other than the dirty looking building, everything was just fine. We did take the car to St. John for a day without issue. 3 out of 5 stars.
2. St. Thomas. We had been to Puerto Rico 4 times before, which is rather rundown and "third world" in my mind. I was expecting St. Thomas to be a step above Puerto Rico - cleaner with less poverty. As soon as we left the airport and started driving towards our resort, I thought "Oh wow, this is Puerto Rico part 2." Dirty rundown buildings, trash, broken down cars, etc. I never felt unsafe, but it definitely didn't live up to my expectations of being nicer or cleaner than Puerto Rico. St. John on the other hand is exactly how I expected St. Thomas to be - pristine and beautiful. More on that later. All in all, St. Thomas as a whole I felt had beautiful beaches, great views....but a lot of poverty, trash, and run-down properties. 3 out of 5 stars.
3. Resort: Secret Harbour. Our number one concern was a beautiful beach with great snorkeling, which was why we booked Secret Harbour. Before arrival I requested a renovated room. Upon arrival, the desk clerk (Rhonda - very nice and funny!), told us that a renovated beachfront studio wasn't available so she was upgrading us at no charge to a renovated 1 bedroom beachfront unit. Works for us! Check-in was a breeze. The front desk appeared renovated and nice. We got to our room only to find that it appeared straight out of 1980. This did not appear updated in any way, shape, or form. It was clean and sufficient, but definitely not what we requested and were told we would get. We were tired at that point from traveling, so called the front desk the next day and they switched us to a renovated unit. This one had granite countertops, upgraded kitchen and bathroom, etc. The AC worked great, internet worked well enough, and everything was clean. The beach and snorkeling was fantastic. We saw tons of fish and even a few stingrays (VIDEO: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bwTTPGrw37U ). Checkout was simple and straightforward. Overall it was a good stay at Secret Harbour. It's a bit rough around the edges - definitely not upscale, but that's not what I expected. All staff we encountered were nice and friendly. The dive shop was great, as was the restaurant (overpriced, average food in my opinion.) 3 out of 5 stars.
4. St. John Day Trip. The highlight of our stay. We took the car ferry for $50 (very simple), and explored many beaches. THIS is what I was expecting from St. Thomas! Clean, gorgeous views, no large pockets of poverty, no trash....just pristine. We literally said "Wow, this is amazing. This is what we thought St. Thomas would be!" We snorkeled out to Waterlemon Cay and saw the most gorgeous fish, corals, starfish, and even swam with a sea turtle (VIDEO: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xiqAp4Xovjc ) We ate at The Tourist Trap (funny, off-the-wall owners, good food), went to the Annaberg ruins, Cinnamon Bay, and just took a ton of photos. If we come back, we'll definitely make it a point to stay in St. John and forego St. Thomas altogether. It was that good. 5 out of 5 stars.
5. Cyril E. King Airport. Trash. It's very small, has nowhere to eat, and the staff are rude as heck. I couldn't wait to get out of that dive of an airport. This makes Puerto Rico's airport look like a gem. Ridiculous. The check-in machines didn't work, there were no pens to fill out the customs paper (which we've never had to do before), the customs agent was the rudest man ever ("Are you bringing anything back?" Me: "Yes, alcohol." "What are you bringing back?" Me: "Alcohol." "WHAT ARE YOU BRINGING BACK?" Me (perplexed and annoyed): "I said alcohol!" "HOW MANY BOTTLES OF ALCOHOL ARE YOU BRINGING BACK!?" Me: "2!" Rude as heck! If you wanted to know how many bottles you should've asked that the first time!). You have to board and deboard the planes with movable steps...just overall an airport that seems behind on the teams and a mess. 1 out of 5 stars.
6. World Famous Mountain Top. I didn't expect much from reviews, but we actually liked this place. Really good prices on trinkets, and it's SO BIG! The view is also amazing! So much to choose from. Glad we came here. 5 out of 5 stars.
7. Drake's Seat. Pretty view, lots of traffic and tourists. It's a place you'll probably only spend 10 minutes at. A nice photo-op, great view, but nothing else. 4 out of 5 stars.
8. Coral World. Fairly average. Much smaller than we expected, with not many exhibits. Great ocean view, the staff all appeared friendly, an the animals well taken care of. The gift shop was a bit higher priced. As two adults, we spent probably 30 minutes here. There's just not much to see. The lorikeet garden was a lot of fun! 3 out of 5 stars.
Overall we had a good time, but next time we'll definitely try and stay on St. John rather than St. Thomas. I don't consider myself snobby or overly picky at ALL - but I can't help but think "What's wrong with the people on these Caribbean islands who destroy them with trash, poverty, and squalor?" St. John is everything I've dreamed a Caribbean island should be. Puerto Rico and St. Thomas - not so much.